1970 PREMIERSHIP rover Ted Hopkins - the Carlton cult hero forever remembered as football’s most famous benchwarmer - passed away yesterday (Monday 20 November) after a long illness. He was 74.
A pivotal figure in what is generally considered the greatest Grand Final of all time, Hopkins - the blond mop-topped rover/forward in the long-sleeved dark navy No.7 - quite literally kick-started Carlton’s incredible second-half revival in that famous contest with Collingwood some 53 years ago.
Sharing the bench with another Gippsland recruit the late Neil Chandler (who copped an eye injury from a wayward football in the pre-match warm-up), Hopkins, as 19th man, spent the first half of the 1970 Grand Final watching on with the record audience of 121,696, as Bob Rose’s Magpies methodically built what was a seemingly unassailable 44-point lead.
Hopkins, who had sparked Carlton’s second-half revival against Collingwood in the second-semi, again got the call-up as the players emerged from the rooms for the third quarter – coach Ron Barassi acting on a gut feel as he walked down the race that the time was right for the former to impact.
In a diary penned for The Sun in the immediate aftermath of the 1970 Grand Final, Barassi wrote of the move: “Usually I confer with selectors about changes, but not this time. I’m too wound up to heed advice. It is make or break. We’re lacking drive around the packs. Right, Ted Hopkins is second rover. I’m sorry Bert (Thornley), but desperate situations require desperate measures”.
Thornley (the second rover to Adrian Gallagher) duly made way - and Hopkins, on cue, turned the contest on its ear. Giving the Collingwood back pocket Colin Tully the slip, Hopkins’ posted three of Carlton’s seven goals (including the first two within a minute) in a 10 and a half-minute onslaught early in the third quarter - and he booted another in the last as the Blues completed an extraordinary 10-point win.
Recruited from Moe (just prior to it being zoned to Hawthorn) on the recommendation of the former Carlton captain Graham Donaldson, Hopkins had already made his name as Australian Junior Water-Skiing champion when he first fronted for training at Princes Park – initially with the Under 19s then reserves, where he earned the Murie Cup as runner-up to the Morrish Medallist, the competition’s fairest and best.
Hopkins followed the acting captain John Nicholls down the race for his first senior game in Round 8 of 1968. Carlton met Fitzroy at Princes Park that afternoon, and Hopkins started on the bench – the first of 12 in this capacity.
Incredibly, the 1970 Grand Final would serve as Hopkins’ 28th and penultimate Carlton senior game. He would front up again for the opening Round of 1971 against North Melbourne at Arden Street - again off the bench - only to quietly call it a day eight weeks short of his 21st birthday.
Hopkins found refuge at Falls Creek, as its resident National Park ranger. Twelve months later, the smell of the linament again proved intoxicating, and he chased the leather for Albury in the Ovens and Murray League. On the end of a two-year stint with the Tigers, Hopkins returned to the Latrobe Valley and rounded out his playing career with Yallourn.
Away from the paddock, Hopkins - a quirky character oft described as avant garde and bohemian - undertook a variety of business ventures in printing, publishing and broadcasting, and he also released a series of books of prose and poetry.
Hopkins’ place in football lore was forever assured after that last Saturday in September 1970, but it was further reinforced in the Carlton premiership year of 1995 when the analytically minded Bachelor of Science founded Champion Data - one of the first companies to tabulate AFL match statistics and today a provider of data-driven insights with high-tech speed and precision.
Paying tribute to Hopkins’ multi-faceted life was Geoff Slattery, publisher of Slattery Media Group and a long-time friend.
Slattery remembered Hopkins as “anything but a four-goal GF hero or a champion water-skier”.
“Ted’s AFL Record columns were so insightful. He taught me so much about how to watch and understand footy. His vision to create Champion Data was remarkable and such vision in footy has never been replicated and may never be equalled.”
In 2011, Slattery’s company published Hopkins’ memoir The Stats Revolution: The life, loves & passion of Football’s futurist! – a superb life story, frank, fearless and descriptive of what it means to be an innovator. As Slattery said of the subject: “Who else could compare people’s memories of that 1970 Grand Final cameo with the movie Casablanca?”.
“Ted’s life was so varied: from his comet-like footy career, to writer, publisher, designer, essayist, and, finally the creation of Champion Data. For Ted, stats were never about kicks and marks, but the impact of those numbers on the game’s outcome. Results, not numbers,” Slattery said.
“In ‘Stats Rev’ he wrote of what came before as: ‘… there was no systematic and objective recording of football statistics for each player, each team and every game of a season, as occurs as a matter of course today’.
“It does indeed, all because of Ted. So often considered an eccentric, he was anything but. His legacy is eternal and how many of us can say that?
“RIP Ted. Never forgotten.”
A stroke adversely impacted on Hopkins’ memory in recent years, but in an interview with The Age correspondent Greg Baum in April 2011, he spoke of the exhilaration of playing in big games as “utterly compelling and, I am pleased to say, everlasting”.
On Grand Final day 1970, Hopkins said he “tasted something quite profound”.
Thornley, the man whom Hopkins replaced at that pivotal moment in the match, said that they were forever linked by the 1970 Grand Final, and that pivotal switch prior to the third quarter.
“We never ever lost the bond,” said Thornley, now living in the Queensland town of Gympie. “From that moment on we were teammates in achieving the one goal and that was the important thing. That was something we all learned from Ron (Barassi) that no individual matters, what matters is the cause.”
“Ted was a real character, but all the guys in that 1970 premiership team were special in one way or another. Look at ‘Gooldy’ (John Goold), ‘Perc’ (Peter Jones), ‘Big Nick’ (John Nicholls) and Syd (Jackson).”
Ted Hopkins was the 805th player to complete his senior debut for the Carlton Football Club, in the 126 seasons since Sebastopol’s Jimmy Aitken led the first team out in the opening round of the VFL (now AFL) competition on Saturday 8 May 8, 1897.
Hopkins’ passing follows Barassi’s death in September. He is the fourth member of Carlton’s fabled 1970 Grand Final 20 now gone, after Vin Waite in 2003, Sergio Silvagni in 2021 and Neil Chandler last year.
Hopkins’ health problems surfaced seven years ago when he experienced what was later diagnosed as mitochondrial disease, an inherited chronic illness that has no cure.
As his daughter Erica explained, he began to experience stroke-like symptoms and a form of dementia.
Hopkins’ wife Angelica pre-deceased him, as did his older brother Geoff. An older sister Judith is still living, and Erica, as an only child, supported her father throughout.
Erica was photographed with her father at the Carlton Football Club’s Life Members Luncheon at Kew Golf Club in March 2021. At the corresponding event in March last year, 1970 premiership teammate Syd Jackson also posed with Hopkins for a photo.
“Dad was so lovely and kind. He was wonderful father,” Erica said.
“He was really smart, creative, and he did a lot of different things. He stayed close to football through his involvement with Champion Data and his connection with Carlton.”